In a recent letter sent to Sen. Harry Reid and Speaker John Boehner, extremely leftist Democrat Congressman Ed Markey and 43 of his fellow leftist Democrats urge the Congress to cut spending on America’s nuclear deterrent by more than $100 bn over a decade, i.e. more than $10 bn per year.
Such deep budgetary cuts would mean deep cuts in the nuclear deterrent itself – in the nuclear warhead stockpile as well as the fleet of ICBMs, submarines, and bombers. Indeed, Markey and his fellow leftists in the House – all of whom represent very Democrat-heavy districts where the only competition is between leftists and even more strident leftists – have been trying to achieve that goal for many years, even before there was a big budget deficit.
Their proposals must be completely and utterly rejected. For if they were implemented (God forbid), they would leave the US nuclear arsenal too small to deter Russia and China, leave America open to a Russian or Chinese nuclear first strike, and force America’s allies to develop their own nuclear weapons.
Russia has 1,492 deployed strategic warheads and 1,308 nondeployed ones in reserve, plus untold thousands of deployed and nondeployed tactical nuclear warheads. To deliver its strategic warheads, Russia has 434 ICBMs (which can collectively deliver 1,684 warheads if need be): 58 SS-18 heavy ICBMs (which can deliver 10 warheads each), 136 SS-19 ICBMs (6 warheads deliverable by each), 144 single-warhead SS-25 ICBMs, 72 single-warhead SS-27 ICBMs, and 18 RS-24 (SS-29) ICBMs (4 warheads each), plus hundreds of SLBMs deployed on 13 ballistic missile submarines, and hundreds of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles deliverable by almost 200 Tu-95, Tu-160, and Tu-22M strategic bombers.
Russia also has a very wide range of delivery systems to deliver its thousands of tactical warheads: air- and ship-launched cruise missiles, torpedoes, artillery pieces, tactical aircraft (e.g. the Su-34), air and BM defense systems, and some of its tactical nukes are nuclear depth charges. With this huge tactical nuclear arsenal, Russia could easily destroy America’s meagre 200-500 tactical nukes in Europe easily in a preemptive first strike.
If the US cuts its nuclear deterrent deeply – let alone as deeply as Markey demands – unilaterally, Russia will be able to destroy the remaining small arsenal easily in a first strike and to blackmail the US and its allies with nuclear weapons.
China could do so just as easily in case of unilateral American cuts. China, contrary to what you may have been told, has far more nuclear warheads and delivery systems than disarmament advocates claim. It has at least 1,800, and up to 3,000, nuclear warheads. It has 36 multi-warhead DF-5 heavy ICBMs, at least 30 (and probably more) DF-31 MaRVable (multi-warhead) ICBMs, an unknown number of DF-41 heavy ICBMs (which can carry 10 warheads each), and at least 132 JL-1 and JL-2 SLBMs (120 of which are MIRVable) on its six ballistic missile subs.
Both Russia and China also have attack submarine fleets large enough to hunt down and sink the few of the vintage Ohio class SSBNs that Markey’s proposals would leave in service (he and his fellow leftists want to deeply cut the SSBN fleet).
The unilateral, deep cuts in America’s nuclear deterrent that Ed Markey and his fellow leftists advocate would leave the US nuclear arsenal so small that it would be too small to deter Russia and China and easy for either of them to destroy in a preemptive first strike. Due to its small size, it would indeed invite such a first strike.
These deep, unilateral cuts would also force America’s allies to develop their own nuclear arsenals. They cannot afford to bet their security, and indeed their very existence, on a tiny American nuclear arsenal and on America breaking free of leftist Democrats and their “unilateral disarmament will make us safer” kool-aid in 2016. Japan, South Korea, and several other allies already have the capability to go nuclear if need be, and several Persian Gulf allies (including Saudi Arabia, which has close ties to nuclear-armed Pakistan and once had Pakistani missiles stationed on its soil) are now developing the capability to go nuclear if they need to. (I’m hardly alone in warning about this; CSBA analysts Eric Edelman, Andrew Krepinevich, and Evan B. Montgomery have also warned about this likely consequence in an essay published 2 years ago in Foreign Affairs.)
Already, in recent years, multiple US allies in Europe and Asia have stressed, on many occassions, the necessity of maintaining the US nuclear umbrella and have warned the US against further cuts to it, worried about their own security.
Nor would Markey’s unilateral cuts proposals save any significant amount of money. $100 bn over a decade is $10 bn per year. That’s just 1/130th of America’s annual federal budget deficit ($1.3 trillion) and just 1/6th of the amount to be sequestered from the defense budget every year ($60 bn per year, $600 bn over a decade). Markey’s cuts proposals would do NOTHING to reduce the budget deficit and little to pay for sequestration.
Markey falsely claims, and POLITICO repeats this false claim after him, that the US plans to spend $640 bn on nuclear weapons over the next decade and that this supposed plan “defies fiscal responsibility”:
“Markey and 43 of his fellow House Democrats sent a letter, obtained by POLITICO, to Harry Reid and John Boehner arguing that much of the $640 billion that’s been allocated for nuclear programs “defies fiscal responsibility.””
But that is a blatant lie. Firstly, the US does not plan to spend $640 bn (or anything close to it) on nuclear weapons over the next decade. According to the Stimson Center, the US spends $32 bn per year on its entire nuclear arsenal (i.e. on the warheads, the delivery systems, the related facilities, the maintenance, the environmental cleanup, security, personnel) and will spend between $352 bn and $392 bn on the nuclear arsenal over the next decade. That is far less than what Markey claims.
(Nor should be we surprised that Markey greatly exxagerates the supposed future costs: his figure comes from the Ploughshares Fund, a pro-unilateral-disarmament organization led by hard leftist Joe Cirincione, and has been deliberately exaggerated – so much so that it has been criticized even by WaPo “factchecker” Glenn Kessler. It has also been refuted here.)
$32 bn per year is only 4.8% (i.e. less than 5%) of the entire FY2012 military budget ($645 bn; for FY2013, the Senate has just authorized a similar sum, $631 bn). $39.2 bn per year (an annualized average of what Stimson claims the US will spend over the next decade) is just 6% of the total military budget. That’s a drop in the bucket. It’s a tiny sum. It’s no threat to other defense programs – or to the nation’s fiscal sanity – at all.
Even the completely fake, wildly exaggerated figure of $640 bn per decade (i.e. $64 bn per year) fabricated by Ploughshares, which is not true and will never be true, would amount to only 9.9% of the entire military budget. But it won’t, because Markey’s and Ploughshares’ $640 bn is wildly exaggerated and is not even close to being true.
So the US spends only $32 bn on its entire nuclear arsenal, as estimated by Stimson, and that amounts to less than 5% of its annual military budget. That’s a bargain price to maintain nuclear deterrence, keep America and its 30 allies (who depend on the US nuclear umbrella) safe, and prevent nuclear proliferation (by discouraging America’s allies from developing their own nuclear arsenals). That’s a cheap price to keep America and its 30 allies safe.
Nuclear weapons, contrary to their critics’ claims, are not relics of the Cold War. They are crucial, necessary, irreplaceable instruments of deterrence, security, and nonproliferation for the 21st century. They are needed now more than ever, now that China has a large nuclear arsenal, North Korea has nuclear weapons of its own, and Iran is racing to develop such weapons.
No, Congressman Markey, the meager cost of maintaining the US nuclear deterrent at its present size does not “defy fiscal responsibility.” It is very much fiscally responsible.